“Ethiopians do not know the value of their water resources; they have yet to realize it.” Dr. Seleshi Bekele. Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy of Ethiopia
In the last nine years or so, issues related to Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile river have dominated international news, some with alarming headline foretelling world water war. Almost all news items required detailed historical background knowledge, skill to understand international transboundary laws and agreements, and an ability to decode technical details. With this piece, I will try to keep it high level and discuss the river Nile, Ethiopian current destitute situation, Egyptian role in keeping Ethiopians in poverty, and the way forward.
The river Nile is made up of two rivers, the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The Blue Nile originates in #Ethiopian highlands ((locally known as Abay river) and contributes up 60 billion cubic meters (BCM about 85%) annually while White Nile originates in Tanzania and contributes about 14 BCM rest. The two rives join in Khartoum, Sudan and continue to flow from south to north through #Egypt and into the Mediterranean, completing an over 6000 km journey. The Blue Nile crosses over large #Ethiopian land mass where millions of poor #Ethiopian live.
Ethiopia has over 100 million people and it is one of the poorest counties in the world. Most people remember Ethiopia from the 1984 famine when Ethiopians faced a “biblical hunger in the land closet to hell.” Their situation has hardly improved since then, though they have not faced famine, almost all her population is malnourished, and the people still encounter reoccurring draught and suffer from perennial food shortage. Despite having millions of hectares of irrigable arable land and fresh river waters, Ethiopians completely depend on seasonal rain and live literally in the dark because of lack of electricity. They cut trees and collect cow dung for light and for cooking, respectively. They generate a meager 100 billion USD GDP, earn only 4 billion a year from Export, and import over 15 billion USD annually. Ethiopian sky rocketing population growth (projected to reach 205 million by 2050) and rapid urbanization (projected to reach 50 million) is exacerbating food shortage, delivery of health care, supplying drinking water, deforestation and climate change, etc. The major cause for this dire Ethiopians situation is because Egypt has conspired and acted to prevent them from using their own waters.
Egypt located on the edges of Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, has over 150 trillion cubic meter (TCM) of under-ground water reserve, and Egypt continues to store 160 billion cubic meter (BCM) of water in her High Aswan Dam. But Egypt completely depends on the Nile as her single source of water. To guarantee the continuous supply of Nile waters, Egypt outlined five strategies aimed at deterring and stopping Ethiopia from using the Blue Nile waters.
The strategies included direct invasion, encircling Ethiopia by hostile Arab league member nations, fostering and supporting internal conflict and destabilization, working with world leaders and financial institutions to deny finance, and overt and covert threat to take military action. Egypt started carrying out all strategies, as needed, starting in 1875 and continues to the present. Egypt invaded Ethiopia in 1875/1876 and suffered a resounding defeat. Egypt sponsored and encouraged Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea to join the Arab league and provided them military and financial support at multiple occasions.
For over 70 years, Egypt has interfered in internal political affairs of Ethiopia and provided military, financial, and political support to liberation fronts and to political groups in #Ethiopia. During the same 70 years, Egypt colluded with world leaders, like USA and Russia and the Arab league, and financial institution, like World Bank, to deny financing to Ethiopia for any project over the Blue Nile. To this end, Egypt even signed the camp David agreement recognizing Israel (becoming the only Arab country to do so) and uses her influence in the Arab league. Lastly, Egypt built a large army and acquired expensive armaments from USA and uses it to threatens and to take military action against Ethiopians. These strategies have been very effective for the last 120 years - starting from 1902- enabling Egypt to monopolize the use of the Nile waters and enjoyed a veto power against of any project by any upstream country.
Fortunately, starting in 2011, Ethiopians managed to overcome almost all of the five Egyptian obstacles and commenced building the Grand #Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project on the Blue Nile (Abay river). This hydroelectric dam is fully financed by Ethiopians and is designed to generate 6400 MW of energy. GERD project is now estimated to be over 70% completed, and filling the reservoir is scheduled to begin in July 2020.
Egypt opposed the project and “tried to stop the unstoppable.” Egypt is demanding the GERD reservoir filling must take 21 years. Instead, Egypt must abandon her colonial monopolistic mindset that diminishes the lives of Ethiopians. The total annual flow of White Nile and Blue Nile, the two that become the river Nile, is estimated to be 74 BCM, and it is shared exclusively between Egypt and Sudan. Though the Blue Nile water originates within Ethiopia’s borders and it contributes about 60 BCM to the flow. Ethiopia has never been allowed to use even an ounce of water from the Blue Nile, and as the result, her generation of people are caught in a cycle of poverty for 120 years. This just must not go on even for a day if we could change it.
The best way forward for Egypt is to realize that her sinister strategies that have successfully deterred Ethiopians for 120 years are no more. This realization would help Egypt to negotiate in earnest and will enable her to protect her long-term interest. Egypt should not only accept the building of GERD but also work to help Ethiopians start using their water resources immediately to prevent hunger and to speed electrification that restores the forest, guarantees rain, and ensures the continued flow of Nile waters.
To do so, Egypt can agree to use some of her 160 BCM of water stored in High Aswan Dam reservoir while Ethiopia fills her 79 BCM GERD reservoirs. Agreeing to such a win-win proposition builds trust between #Ethiopians and Egyptians. It will not redress the injustice suffered by Ethiopian for the last 120 because of Egyptian activities, but it will, however, usher equitable sharing and benefit for all from the mighty Nile river. It will also make other negotiations easier and to reach an agreement on future GERD operational condition.
Justice has been denied to Ethiopians and their right for equitable use of the Blue Nile waters has been delayed because of Egyptian’s malicious conspiration and deliberate actions. Egypt must discard her old strategies and, instead, accept an approach fit for the times and that is best to protect her long-term national interest. Egypt should agree to use her waters stored in her HAD reservoir while Ethiopia redirects enough Blue Nile waters, that originates in Ethiopia, and use it to fill the GERD 76 BCM reservoir as quickly as possible. This will likely last only three years, and after the filling the entire Nile water will start to flow to Egypt uninterrupted like it has for thousands of years.
By Mekonnen Kassa
A community and political activist focusing on Africa, ICT Infrastructure and Security professional.